By Gwendolyn Ng
IF YOU are tossing your mobile phones and laptops into the trash, know this: They could end up harming your health and the environment.
Said Associate Professor Ting Yen Peng of the National University of Singapore's (NUS) Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering: "These electronic devices contain a variety of hazardous substances such as lead and mercury.
"When improperly disposed of, they end up in an incinerator, and these substances will be emitted into the environment and pollute the air, water and land."
With the increased use of technology - Singapore's mobile- penetration rate alone hit 140.7 per cent in June, up from 139.6 per cent in May - the recycling of electronic waste, commonly known as e-waste, is fast becoming a popular means to get rid of old devices.
According to a 2007 media report, environmental agencies estimated that 20-50 million tonnes of electronic products are discarded globally every year.
Recycling firms told my paper that the amount of e-waste collected has increased over the years, and collection peaks during sales of information-technology products, electronics fairs and festive seasons.
This year, the National Environment Agency's (NEA) Recycling Week, which ended last Saturday, featured an E-waste Take Back Project.
An NEA spokesman said: "E-waste recycling enables the recovery of precious resources such as metals and plastics, and minimises waste disposal at our waste-to-energy incineration plants and Semakau Landfill."
There are also other avenues to collect e-waste.
Old mobile phones can be dropped off at Nokia Care Centres, where everything from plastic covers to batteries are recycled.
There are also door-to-door collections provided by recycling firms such as Recycling Point Dot Com.
The firm's founder, Mr Joseph Tan, who began collecting e-waste about 20 years ago, said that other companies jumped on the e-waste bandwagon about a decade ago.
He revealed that the topthree items collected in Singapore are washing machines, refrigerators and cathode ray tube (CRT) television sets.
Recycling companies my paper spoke to said that electronic devices in good condition are often given a second life. They are refurbished and resold to the market here or abroad.
Devices deemed beyond repair are usually dismantled, and materials such as gold and copper are extracted.
But before trashing your old devices, it is important to ensure that your stored personal data has been deleted so that it does not fall into the wrong hands.
Mr Thomas Kok, chief of IT Risk Management Practice at the NUS Institute of System Science, said: "Depending on the type of information someone could uncover, he or she may be able to use it maliciously against you. You could become a victim of identity theft, lose money, or be used in a social-engineering attack."
Mr Kok said there is a range of measures one can take, including using software available at computer stores to carry out "detailed formatting" multiple times, or even physically damaging the hard disk by drilling multiple holes into it before disposal.
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